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Selecting an instructor

September 30, 2021  By Michael Soden

Selecting an instructor may seem easy, but because instructor levels vary so greatly, it’s often not. With the advent of social media, we’ve seen a significant increase in “tactical instructors.”

The definition for instructor is “one who teaches something”. The definition of tactical is “relating to or constituting actions carefully planned to gain a specific military end, showing adroit planning; aiming at an end beyond the immediate action.” So, a “tactical instructor” is someone who teaches you how to plan to achieve a desired outcome.

Vetting is a two-way street. From the student standpoint, being realistic about goals and skill set is most important in seeking a course and teacher. They must ask, “what exactly am I looking to be taught?”, then find an instructor who can provide adequate instruction. From the instructor standpoint, not appropriately vetting students may indicate two issues: teaching is simply about money and/or it’s about ego. Neither should have a place in instruction.

It’s much easier for instructors to vet students than for students to vet their teachers. Instructors should take on the responsibility of telling students when a class isn’t right for them and point them in the right direction.

“A tactical instructor is someone who teaches you how to plan to achieve a desired outcome.”

As a student, you must realize there are many instructors available to you, especially on social media platforms. To vet them, start by determining your objective and your goal. If you’ve never picked up a firearm before, the best place to start is a basic firearms course. There is no shame here. The initial skills I learned 26 years ago are the same as those I practice and use today. What has made me “advanced” is the ability to do them effortlessly and effectively under stressful conditions and when faced with difficult scenarios. What makes me “tactical” is being able to assess the situation, act accordingly and adjust as needed.

Adding the word tactical seems to make training very exciting, so this is where instructors must also be realistic in their knowledge. An instructor teaching outside of their skill set and expertise displays a lack of humility. This likely means that teaching is about their ego or about the money, not your learning. Take me, for example. I’ve been teaching consistently since 2007 and am very competent around firearms, but if you came to me seeking instruction because you wanted to compete in a three-gun competition, I would have to refer you to someone else. It all comes down to the simple fact that instructors actually need to be able to teach the information. It’s important to note some people simply are not good at teaching information. I also know some top tier professionals who are simply terrible instructors.

It’s better to have a professional that teaches than a professional teacher. Students must find an instructor that strikes the perfect balance between adequate teaching skills and lived experience. At the end of the day, experience cannot be taught—and experience is the mother of all instruction. The most invaluable lessons I learned during my career have primarily taken place on the street and I always incorporate these into my courses. We experiment in training and, if sound, can then apply it to the street. However, sometimes what is sound in the sterile training environment is a failure in the real world. If this is the case, we can then reevaluate and add or subtract experiences from the training program. Students are paying instructors to learn from their experience. Again, take me for instance. When I’m done teaching, I return to my job as a full-time police officer and live the lessons I teach in class.

So, when seeking out an instructor, don’t forget to ask yourself what you are looking for as a student. Whatever that is, be realistic and find an instructor that is a good match for you and your goals. Lastly, I also encourage you to ask questions (i.e. Have you ever done what you are teaching? If so, how many times? Are you able to verify this or is it just word of mouth?). Instructors should welcome these questions as it will validate both you as a tenacious learner and them as a qualified instructor.

For the past 18 years, Michael Soden has served with the Prince Georges County Police Department in Maryland, USA, and is currently a Lieutenant. He is also a police instructor, owner of Gladius Training International and teaches in partnership with the Italian training company Close Protection Team overseas.

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